Coin Toss

In soccer, a coin toss is a pre-game activity during which the referee decides which team gets which side of the pitch and which team gets to start the game with a kickoff

What does a coin toss procedure look like in soccer?

  • A couple of minutes before the game, a team that consists of three referees will gather around the captains of the home and the away team.
  • The referee will then ask the away team’s captain to choose between heads or tails.
  • If the away team’s captain wins the coin toss, the away team decides one of two options:
  1. To either start the game or let the opposition have the first attack
  2. To choose the side they would like to defend
  • In this case, the home team, or the losing team, gets to choose from the second option. 

What does each option mean?

  1. The first option determines who gets possession of the ball first. Starting the game means getting the first attack while receiving the ball means being the team that defends first. The team that had the first attack will be the one defending at the start of the second half.
  2. Deciding on which side a team would like to defend first. This is a somewhat important decision that could affect the outcome since the fina result can be affected by the following factors:
  • Direct sunlight disrupting one team’s performance
  • A huge group of either home or away fans being directly behind a goalkeeper
  • The direction of the wind

A coin toss can also be present during other parts of a soccer match like:

During the knockout phase of certain tournaments like the Champions League or the World or Continental Cup, there are instances where some games end in a tie after full time and extra time is required. After a small break, and before the extra time, the referees will yet again group up the two captains and ask them the same question. Since the extra time also consists of two halves (15 minutes each), the team that gets to either choose a side or attack first will get the opposite option during the second part of extra-time. If a winner isn’t decided within extra time, the game will advance to a penalty shoot-out.

When it comes to a penalty shoot-out, two teams choose which one will start the shoot-out. There are several different strategies when it comes to penalties. Many teams that win the coin toss decide to shoot first. The reason is quite simple – around 60 percent of teams who decide to go first in a penalty shoot-out win the game. A little less than 40 percent of teams who shoot second manage to win the game.

Similarities with the NFL

While a coin toss is a standard occurrence in many sports, the difference between a coin toss in the NFL and association football is somewhat noticeable. 

A coin toss in NFL has three different options to choose from. These three options are also a bit more crucial in the second half of the game, which isn’t the case in soccer.